A new phone from Honor is always a cause for interest, with the Huawei offshoot putting out a range of handsets that more often than not combine good hardware with an excellent design and an attractive price.
The latest, then, is no change to this tried and true formula. The Honor 9X has already been launched in Asia, but has now made its way to Europe, and it's not exactly the same phone. The Honor 9X does maintain the Honor tradition of a decent quality smartphone at an affordable price.
Assuming you're happy to look past the handful of flaws.
Bottom line: A gorgeous design and well-made hardware let down a little by some performance critiques and the irritating omission of NFC.
- Gorgeous design
- Large battery
- No notch or hole-punch
- 128GB of storage
- Decent main camera
- No NFC
- Weak wide-angle camera
- Attracts fingerprints, dust, crumbs like crazy
- Sluggish performance in games
Lots to like in the hardware
The 9X is unmistakably an Honor phone, and the rear is certainly its best angle. Once more, Honor has brought some pizazz to phone design, even on its more affordable offerings. After all, just because you want to spend less doesn't mean you want a boring phone, right?
|Operating System||Android 9 Pie
2340 x 1080
Expandable with microSD
|Rear Cameras||48MP primary camera
8MP ultra-wide camera
2MP depth sensor
|Security||Rear fingerprint sensor|
The smooth glass back curves at the edges, and buried in the striking blue paint job is a reflective "X" pattern that breathes life into the back of the phone. The sides are also blue, though not metal, and visually it's hard to argue the Honor 9X is a looker. The rear is also where you'll find the fingerprint sensor, and it's every bit as fast and reliable as we've come to expect in recent years from Honor and Huawei phones.
However, while it looks as good as it does, it's also a magnet for literally anything to make it look dirty. Fingerprints, fluff, crumbs, absolutely any kind of fodder that may have found its way inside your pocket is fair game and you'll spend a lot of time wiping the phone down. The clear case Honor includes doesn't even stop bits of daily life working its way inside, and keeping the 9X looking its best is a full-time commitment.
Things are pretty good around the front, too. The Honor 9X lacks the two things I dislike the most about recent smartphone displays; There's no hole-punch and definitely no notch. The Honor 9X has a 6.59-inch display and aside from the small chin at the bottom and the slimmest of side bezels, it covers the entire front of the phone.
That's because even though this is a more wallet-friendly phone, the Honor 9X goes with a motorized pop-up selfie camera. Something my four-year old son is most impressed by. The display itself is a very good looking Full HD+ panel at 2340 x 1080, with the standard "smart resolution" feature enabled by default that will drop this automatically when necessary to help save power.
You won't have a problem making it through the day with the battery on this phone.
But I turned that off, because realistically you don't have to worry about saving power to get through the day. Honor put a large 4,000 mAh battery into the 9X, which means it has substantially better battery life than some recent, much more expensive phones to have launched. I've only spent just under a week with the Honor 9X, but even with a YouTube binge and some fairly heavy use, I was never in danger of running out of power before the end of a day.
The hardware delivers further good news, too. Inside you have a whopping 128GB of storage as well as a microSD card slot. Fair play, Honor. The 9X also comes with USB-C for charging and, for the headphone jack purists, a 3.5mm connector to hook up your favorite headphones.
Performance is on the whole fairly good. The Honor 9X uses the Kirin 710F paired with 6GB of RAM and the now well-known GPU Turbo. General use is perfectly fine, there are no real signs of chugging when you're using the phone for everyday tasks, the camera launches and takes photos quickly and the optional gesture navigation is fluid and snappy.
Ultimately this is an affordable phone, and the hardware more than suits the price tag. More storage, for example, will make a bigger difference to those buying the Honor 9X than perhaps more RAM or a more powerful CPU.
No software troubles here
The Huawei-US troubles are well documented, and in smartphones is no more obvious than the recently launched Mate 30 Pro and its Google-free arrival which makes it the best phone you shouldn't buy.
Anyone concerned the Honor 9X may have suffered a similar fate can rest easy. Since it was further along in the development cycle and launched several months ago in China, the Honor 9X has the full Google suite installed out of the box. So you can buy one safe in the knowledge it has everything you want it to have, and there are no backdoor workarounds you need to employ.
As it stands, the software is pretty standard fare. We're getting EMUI 9.1 over Android 9, and the overall experience matches that of other recent Honor or Huawei phones from 2019. You can bring back the app drawer on the stock launcher, and you can theme it up to your heart's delight with the built-in Theme store.
You've got full gesture navigation support if you prefer, though the standard three buttons are enabled by default, and aside from a slight hiccup every now and again when going into the app switcher, it works really well and it's definitely my preferred way to navigate a fairly large phone such as this.
If there's to be one criticism rendered towards the software on the Honor 9X, it's that it comes to market in the final months of the year still running a security patch from August. Sure, the mothership has its issues with being able to use Google stuff right now, but this phone isn't affected by that and I will always maintain that keeping security patches up to date should be one of the top priorities on any phone.
Where the Honor 9X gets it wrong
In China, this might not be so much of an issue, but this is a European launch and I'm sorry, I cannot excuse any phone at any price point for not having NFC in it anymore. It's unacceptable.
It's unacceptable to leave out NFC on any smartphone anymore.
Contactless payments are ubiquitous in the UK and across Europe. Google Pay, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and whatever other type of Pay there is in the world is accepted essentially anywhere credit card payments are. It's a part of everyday life and it's not good enough that you should be expected to pay a premium on a more expensive phone just to have this basic feature.
Worse still is that before I actually read the full spec sheet, the Honor 9X and Google Pay worked in harmony to set up my card and for me to then try and pay for breakfast with it. Because somehow, somewhere, Google Pay hadn't got the message there was no NFC, as it usually declares you can't use a phone for contactless payments when it's missing.
The Honor 9X also boasts of GPU Turbo 3.0, which is great news for mobile gamers, and as proved on previous Honor phones, can deliver good results. Unfortunately, it seems the Kirin 710F isn't up to the task of the latest hot mobile titles, like Call of Duty Mobile.
CoD Mobile is limited to only the low graphics settings, nothing else can even be activated, and a choice of the lowest two frame rate settings. It's playable, but what I'd class as barely, and it's not really enjoyable. PUBG Mobile fares better, with a bigger choice of lower settings, and Fortnite won't even install through the Epic Games launcher because apparently the device isn't supported.
It's disappointing, I'll be honest, because the Honor Play I still have around from 2018 delivers a better gaming experience. The Honor 9X has lent itself well to some cloud-based gaming, however, with that unbroken, large display proving a perfect match for Microsoft's Project xCloud.
A mixed camera bag
One thing previous, more affordable Honor phones have always impressed with is camera performance, and that's somewhat true on the 9X. The first thing worth noting is that unlike the Chinese variant, the European Honor 9X comes with a triple camera setup on the rear.
It's made up of a 48MP main sensor, a 2MP depth sensor and an 8MP wide-angle. It's all backed up with the excellent AI shooting mode from all recent Honor phones, which does an incredible job of matching the shooting conditions and pre-tweaking images. When turned off, you get a purer, flatter looking image, but if you're not looking to edit your shots or simply want them to pop on social media, it's certainly worth keeping enabled.
Most of the time you won't be shooting full-resolution 48MP images, and one mild criticism is that it's not that obvious how you do at all. It seems that the full resolution is only available in the Pro shooting mode paired with manual controls, and for most people, it really won't be an issue. It just feels a little hidden.
Most of the time you'll be shooting 12MP images on the main camera, and 8MP on the wide-angle. Starting with the good, images from the main camera are crisp with plenty of detail, and the portrait mode is very good and gets the edge detection pretty spot on every time. There are a bunch of different shooting modes, including HDR, light painting, moving pictures, a dedicated aperture mode and a night mode.
The EMUI camera app is absolutely packed with features, and whether you're a casual photographer or like to take total control, you're well taken care of. The aperture mode is a personal favorite, creating a nice depth of field effect without looking overblown or fake.
The wide-angle on the Honor 9X just isn't very good
There are some weaknesses with the camera, though, and the biggest is the wide-angle. It's just not very good. Even for posting photos on social media, you're not going to be terribly happy with it. The field of view is fine, it's wide enough to capture a good wide-angle shot without too much of a fisheye, but the detail captured is pretty bad.
If it were limited to the very edges of the image it might be passable, but at least a third of the image combined across both sides not only lacks detail, but packs a lot of noise. It's a shame because as we've learned from the recent Google Pixel 4 launch, wide-angle is preferable in most cases to telephoto, but the Honor 9X just doesn't get it right.
The front-facing 16MP camera is pretty good, though the portrait mode is a little odd. If you just just select it and shoot you'll be very disappointed by the lack of background blur. You have to first choose what type of background effect you want adding to your shots to make it work at all, there's no default option. I feel like this is making the point of portrait mode more complicated than it needs to be,
Images aren't bad though, nothing outstanding but certainly good enough for the purposes that 99% of buyers of this phone will use them for, that being social media.
The bottom line
The Honor 9X is a phone I wanted to love because I've always had a fondness for good, affordable phones. They're what much of the mass market will be considering when buying a new device, and for the most part, the Honor 9X is going to be a good choice.
But it cannot be excused for launching in Europe without support for Google Pay. It just can't.
For many, this will be a great phone to buy.
Aside from this, the Honor 9X is a very good phone. The camera is mostly decent, the battery life is good, the screen and hardware as a whole very nice and enjoyable to use. It's not really for the heavy mobile gamer, sure, but as a normal phone for normal people, it's a perfectly good choice to make.
Flawed it may be, but Honor continues its tradition of making good quality, desirable, but affordable phones.
The Honor 9X will launch first in Russia from October 25 for the equivalent of $300, with a further European launch and full pricing to follow.